THE BOWL OF WATER AND THE TOWEL (Part of Lent Series: Symbols of the Passion)

Canon Gary Philbrick, Lent 2, 9/III/17, 9.30a.m., St Mary’s, Fordingbridge.

Lent 2 (A)-FB-Ma17-Image

Genesis 12:1-4a, John 3:1-17

During this Lent we’re basing our sermons not only on the Scripture passage for the day, but also on the Symbols of the Passion, which we are adding to the Lenten Cross at the beginning of the Service each Sunday in Lent.  Today, the bowl of water and the towel.

I wonder whether people have noticed that we use a bowl of water and a towel in our service every Sunday.  It’s quite a discrete part of the Service, usually ‘masked’, as were by the hymn after the Peace.  At the end of the Offertory, after the elements of bread and wine are brought up, followed by the blessing of the Collection, our offering to God of what we own for use in his service, the fingers of the priest presiding at the Eucharist are washed, using a little bowl called a lavabo – from the Latin for washing, from which our words ‘lavatory’ and, via a slightly longer route, ‘laundry’ come.  As we pray over the various things which happen at the Offertory, I usually use the words from Ps. 51, the great Lenten Psalm, ‘Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean, wash me and I shall be whiter than snow’ [Ps. 51:8], but some priests use words from Psalm 26: ‘I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord, that I may go about your altar, to make heard the voice of thanksgiving and tell of all your wonderful deeds’ [Ps. 26:6-7].

The first time I was in Uganda, in 1990, I was asked to Preside at Communion, and when it came to the Offertory, I turned round, expecting to find the usual little bowl, instead to find myself presented with a plastic washing-up bowl, a bar of soap, and a towel, to do a proper hand-washing.  And in Kinkiizi, when Rachel and I were there the year before last, behind the altar in the Cathedral in Nyakatare, there is a large container of water on a stand, with a little tap in it, and all of those taking part around the alter were expected to wash their hands properly before moving on to the administration of Communion.

So our Lenten Symbols of the bowl of water and the towel should be a familiar part of our experience every Sunday, and we can relate them to various parts of Jesus’ life, such as his visit to the house of Simon the Pharisee related in Luke chapter 7 [36-50], where his host, rudely, didn’t offer him water and towel to wash his feet on arrival, but the woman who was a sinner anointed his feet with perfume and washed them with her hair.  Or we might think of Pontius Pilate, washing his hands on Good Friday, condemning an innocent man to death, and trying to pass on the responsibility for that decision to others.

But the Lenten Symbols of the bowl of water and the towel, of course, chiefly refer to the Last Supper, and to Jesus’ washing the feet of his Disciples, the Master in the role of the slave washing the feet of those of whom he is Lord [Jn 13:1-20].  We shall commemorate this at the Maundy Thursday Evening Service, taking place this year at Hyde Church, but there are lots of other themes of the story to be thinking about that evening, which is one of the reasons why we are focusing on these Symbols of the Passion throughout the Sundays of Lent.

Despite the protests of Peter and the other Disciples – ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?…’You will never wash my feet’ [Jn 13:6, 8] – despite their protests Jesus does wash them, and afterwards says, ‘‘Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you’ [Jn 13:12-15].

And here is the crux of this symbol, it’s about service.  As Jesus served his Disciples, so we should serve one another.  He is the Servant King, we are to be a serving people, a serving Church.

Throughout history, and throughout the world today, the Church has always been involved in care of the sick and dying, in hospitals and orphanages, in schools and universities, in founding charities such as The Samaritans or Christians Against Poverty, or Christian Aid, or many other of thousands of examples.  And that idea of service, of course, spreads over into individual lives of service, of people caring for neighbours, for family members, of people choosing servant occupations, of those choosing to travel to the ends of the earth to serve others.

I have often said that we come together for worship, to be renewed for service.  We come together to be refreshed, to learn, sit at the feet of the Gospel, and then we go from here to live lives of service, to be out there in the world for others.

In today’s Gospel reading, the fascinating conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus says to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above’ [Jn 3:3].  We have to be born again, by water and the Spirit, so that we can be sent out in Christ’s name to make a difference to the world around us.

So, as we consider these symbols of the bowl of water and the towel, and perhaps think of what was discussed at the Lent Groups this week, for those who were able to attend, perhaps we can reflect on what it means to be a servant Church, what it means for us to lead lives of service.  Perhaps we can think of the service we have received from others, and perhaps we can commit ourselves to a particular act of service for the coming week, something practical we can do for someone else.  Jesus said, ‘I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you’ [Jn 13:15].

Let’s have a couple of moments to reflect on these things, and then I’ll end with a short meditation and prayer.


You can’t wash someone else’s feet with one hand.  You’ve got to let go of everything and bend down and set to with both hands.  As Jesus did at the Last Supper.  As Jesus did when he abandoned everything and gave his life away for us.

 Lord, you humble yourself.

You bow down like a servant.

You give yourself away for us.

Teach us to learn from you

how to love

how to hold nothing back

how to give ourselves.

Fill us with that Spirit of yours

that Spirit of loving and serving

all our brothers and sisters

sincerely, without counting the cost.

 [Liturgical Institute, Trier, in ‘An Anthology for the Church Year, No. 109]

Reflections 1 and 2

Reflection 1.


You will have noticed that the Collect I chose for today is that for George Herbert, whose writings, “The Temple” and “The Country Parson” greatly influenced me in my understanding of what it means to be a parish priest or parson. I commend it. It is about Being and not Doing.

It links up with the hymn  “ Dear Lord and Father of mankind”. I heard this story a few weeks ago and it stuck in my mind.

The hymn is the last 5 verses of a 10 verse poem. The second 5 are written in contrast to what has gone before. The first 5, tells of, and the writer denounces, the practice of brewing soma beer, an alcoholic drink designed to stimulate or enhance the activity and emotion of worship, to create a false rapture something along the lines of what we sometimes call happy clappy – only more so.

The writer of the poem / hymn, John Whittier, 1807 – 92, asks for forgiveness from our foolish ways , that brewing and the search for excitement and instead to seek that still small voice, based upon the reading from 1 Kings 19..

He, Herbert and I would agree that the quest is essential in the work and preaching of a parish parson.

To hear that still, small voice takes time and has to be heard within the clamour of the earthquake, the wind, the fire of daily life. It is always the quest of the preacher to find that voice that is to be heard at that time, and then, and only then, spoken.

Such takes time.

For me, sermon preparation begins on Monday morning. Reading are read, thoughts, words, ideas are written down and allowed to distil through the week, revisited, refined, rejected, added to, centred,  and only then written.


I cannot understand clergy who sit down on a Saturday evening to write a sermon for Sunday morning, or to do something worse, download from some web site or other the words of someone else. You can always tell. It is too polished, and often out of character with the preacher.

The sense of quiet , reflection, finding stillness is a key principle in worship. That is what Whittier and Herbert are all about- and in a world of Hurley Burley, the always on the phone or social media type, this notion of life and worship is a contrast but a good contrast.

And so I ask is what is often called Innovative Worship or Fresh Expressions, where is the boundary between it and entertainment ? Soma beer is being re-brewed.

Such is my first reflection of what has been a guiding principle of my ministerial life, and is. for all of us, I believe, a good principle.

George Herbert Collect.

King of Glory, King of Peace,

who called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honours

to be a priest in the temple of his God and King,

grant us grace to offer ourselves with singlemness of hesart in humble obedience to your service, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Reflection 2 – My indulgence.

One of my ongoing interests has been in the realms of Social Science and Applied Science.

Social Science is about understanding the growth, development and evolution of human beings, their societies, cultures, religions, ethics, the way people have learned and come to terms with their dealings with other people.

Think how the original human beings ancestors emerge from Africa, developing very slowly into nomadic hunter / gatherers, then again very slowly into the agriculture and village settlements, and then, after a very long time comes the Industrial Revolution, and now we are in the midst of the Technological / Digital age. Think how we got here from where we started. It is amazing.

Alongside these practical developments comes the ethics – how to treat foreigners, people of different skin colour, language, sexual orientation, and primarily how men treat women.

All these, along with others, are part of the quest / discovery / realization of truth, a truth that enlightens, sets free, lives with change and its effects.

Coupled with this is applied science. Such has brought great benefit in such areas as healing, transport, food production, military security, education, medicine and health matters. Many  of these remove much of the drudgery of life and its threat to survival.

My interest and knowledge is not at degree level in either case, its more GCSE / 11+, and in some cases Beano. But all power to the new Ladybird Series to make complicated science intelligible to those of us with limited understanding. All these are about having life in all its fullness, It is about seeing an ongoing creation, of learning more about life, world, universe, truth.

I thought about reflecting on the Ecumenical Movement, which is more that church relationships and unity. OIKUMENE is about bringing together the peoples and nations who are divided into a community of trust and well being. Such I fear is now in decline with the rise of right wing nationalistic politics in some European countries, the U.S.A. and even among some people in our own country following that Referendum. Dennis Healey, the labour politician, reviewing the conflict history of Europe’s countries,  who fought in the Second World War wrote  “ I went into politics to stop World War Three. I have succeeded.”

That is full and true Ecumanism.

My final thought is this.

Isaac Walton was a resident of Winchester, a friend of John Donne, then Dean of St. Paul’s in London, and a biographer of George Herbert. He is most famous for his book, first published in 1654, and never out of print,

The Complete Angler “


The Contemplative Man’s  Recreation.”

He is commemorated with a window in Winchester Cathedral.

He ends his book with a quote from 1 Thessalonians

“Study to be quiet “

 which brings us back to Herbert and Whittier.

Ian Sykes

NEW – The Learning Zone – The Book Group!

Do you like to read? How about reading a book over a 3 month period either for your own benefit or to then also discuss with some others? The Learning Zone now has a book Group which will begin in May. The idea is to read a Christian book which provokes us and then meet in a comfortable environment (with some typical AVP hospitality) and chew over our thoughts.

The May-July book:

Seeking God “The way of St Benedict” bu Esther De Waal. This short book investigates the Rule of St Benedict. We are being encouraged by our own Benedictine diocese of Winchester to adopt our own Rule of Life for the 21st Century, so why not see what Benedict thought 1500 years ago, interpreted and explained by De Waal.

To register your interest either email or telephone 01425 656120 and if you are quick you can secure one of 15 (used) free copies!

Details of the meeting date and venue will be announced in due course.

Mark Ward (Ministry Team Learning Zone co-ordinator)

A sermon preached in Godshill on 5th March 2017 – Lent 1 – Symbols of the passion – Bread and Wine, Mark Ward

Preaching for the season of Lent is all about the Symbols of Christ’s Passion – the period of his travel to the Cross. Now we could argue that his journey to the cross began at his birth or even at the dawn of time before the world ever was, but for this purpose we are to think about the period right at the end of his earthly life, his last few days, perhaps his last few hours.


In simple terms we understand the bread and the wine to be his body and his blood, and we shall celebrate that ritual feeding of ourselves from him in a few moments as we remember his death in the Eucharist. But what does it mean to us that he was a human being – that he was flesh and blood? I’m currently reading a lot about priesthood and there is a temptation for me to rehearse a lot of theology which may or may not interest you but let us start from this point:


God sent Jesus to this earth to be flesh and blood because as it says right back in Genesis – we were created in the image of God. Jesus came in that image to be amongst us as a perfect example of what God intended – to show us how we should be. The reason he ended up on the cross and his blood was spilled was because we have failed to live in that image – we have not been perfect, so he offered himself as a hostage to our human failings.


We who have come after can do nothing about what came before, but we can try to be the people God wants us to be. Of course temptation is put in our way and as we have heard already this morning, Jesus resisted the temptation because he was perfect, but we are not that strong and temptations get to us. But because he realised that and he gave himself up on our behalf, we can be forgiven those temptations over and over again.


The other reason Jesus came to this earth as flesh and blood is so that he has been like us – he knows what it is to be human, he understands things like temptation because he experienced it and that makes him the only person who can join together God with his humanity and God with his creation.


This is where it could get a bit theological so stop me if I lose you, and don’t worry if you think I am losing you because I’m not entirely sure I have worked it all out, but it goes something like this:


I remember reading you something from Richard Rohr some months ago where Rohr says – if you apply earthly logic you can’t understand the person of God because God defies all our logic. Jesus was 100% human but he was also 100% divine. Now I know what you are going to say to me – that’s not possible is it, you can’t be more than 100%, although on the TV I’m always hearing “I’m going to give 150% effort to this” – humanly not possible – but for Jesus nothing is impossible so adding up to 200% is fine – he is completely divine and completely human – why because that means he can experience being of God and of God’s creation – human, and that allows him to mediate between us and God – he has full understanding of both which is why he became flesh and blood.


And that’s different from just negotiating between us and God. Negotiators at best can empathise but they rarely if ever know what it is like for both sides of the argument I hope this helps:


Imagine there are two countries, both of the countries are completely different and they are separated by a stretch of water over which a bridge is built. The bridge joins both countries together but they remain separate countries even though the bridge is there. The bridge isn’t a country – it’s a bridge, so even though it joins the two together it can’t understand what the countries feel like or understand their differences.
Now contrast that with an iron bar that has been heated up to white hot. Let’s call the bar God and the heat us, it doesn’t matter which way round. They are both contained within the same thing – the heat can’t be generated unless the iron is there but they both exist together. Jesus is both the bar and the heat because he is both God and human, and so he understands what it is like to be both. He contains both parts and so he understands us both. I hope that makes sense.


So the fact that the Word was made flesh (and blood) is crucial to the person of who Jesus was. Is it therefore surprising that when his end came on this earth it was so physical – that he suffered great pain from being flogged from the crown of thorns, from dragging the cross and falling, from the nails driven through him, damaging flesh and spilling blood. If you have seen Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” it is gruesome, and it was gruesome – Jesus felt that pain so that he could feel our pain, so that he could explain that pain to God the Father. He also knew what God thought and felt too. If Jesus had not lived and died as we live and die we could not relate to him as we do. And because we can relate to him he can mediate for us and we can be forgiven by God the Father as a result.


So it is no accident that Jesus came to this earth, because he came not just to live amongst us but to experience our experience, and it is no accident that he had to die – perfection had to be offered in our place, a life without stain, and because of the lack of stain God recognises everything Jesus asks of God on our behalf because both Jesus and God are without stain.


So we have much to be thankful for each time we do give in to temptation, that we can be forgiven, and that it is possible to stand up to temptation in the future.


I’m going to finish on a slightly different topic. If you want to understand why Jesus came to this earth, go out and buy a DVD of the film “I Daniel Blake”. I can’t remember if I have spoken about it here or not. It is a film by Ken Loach about a man called Daniel Blake and a small single parent family he meets at the jobcentre. It’s a very sad film and a film that appears to be without hope. It won’t make you feel better by watching it; in fact it will probably upset you. But there are some amazing bits of perfect humanity in it – it proves that we can live in God’s image when we stop thinking about ourselves and start to think about others but crucially it also reminds us that when we get it right it can cost us dearly too. Daniel learns this, so does single mum Katie and her young daughter Daisy, for in all their pain they all reach out to each other, yet because they have done so, when things go wrong, their own pain is even greater. So it also teaches us that humanity is about love, of giving your own flesh and blood for others even when it hurts – even when you end up on your own cross for the love of others.


It’s about £10 to buy the DVD, and I reckon Lent is an ideal time to watch it, but you may need a box of tissues.